A demonstrator holds up a Pride flag outside of the Humboldt County Courthouse on July 6 in support of Cora, a transgender teen from Fortuna who was assaulted in their front yard. | Photo by Thomas Lal

Student leaders and staff fight for a safe campus

The QSU club and CRGS department seek to welcome and educate students

Editors Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 12, 2020

In the year 2020, with racism, sexism and homophobia alive and well, existing in this country as part of a minoritized group continues to add extra layers of suffering to life.

Sophomore and Vice President of the Queer Student Union Adrian Black joined the club immediately upon learning about it their freshman year. Black identifies as transgender, queer and said they came out quickly after discovering who they were through conducting online research.

“I just felt like I needed to get it out as soon as possible,” Black said. “I think [coming out] definitely enabled me to embrace more of my genuine self. I definitely felt like I was being sort of dishonest in the way that I was presenting myself to other people and after coming out I sort of slowly began to just be who I wanted to be and who I felt like I was rather than what other people wanted from me.”

For QSU Treasurer Claire Rogers, it took a bit longer to come to terms with her identity as a lesbian and even longer to share it with her loved ones. While she expected her group of mostly queer friends to be accepting, Rogers was nervous about the reaction she would receive from her family.

“It took a while just for me to be able to put a label on what I was experiencing and it took me a while to be comfortable with a label,” Rogers said. “I felt very shut off from my sisters and my parents before I came out because there was this huge part of myself that I would avoid telling them about.”

Rogers sought communities of people experiencing similar awakenings in her high school LGBT club and again in the HSU QSU club. With operations taking place entirely virtually this semester and an entirely new staff of student leaders, the transition has been slow but relatively smooth according to Rogers. Members maintain virtual contact on Discord and over Zoom, however, the lack of structure in past meetings that allowed members to move around and engage in several conversations has been replaced by a single channel of communication where it’s easy to become drowned out.

“That really casual kind of interaction has mostly been maintained through our Discord server and even that isn’t quite the same because it’s over text,” Rogers said. “I don’t know if either of them is worse or better than the other but it’s a different quality than the previous structure or lack thereof that we need to have.”

Rogers feels mostly comfortable in Humboldt outside of the community created within QSU, however, the idea that there are people out there harnessing hatred towards people like her for simply wanting to be who she is upsets her.

“It doesn’t come up a lot. So, when it does come, it’s definitely jarring,” Rogers said. “It’s mostly been fine I guess but it’s still something that I’m aware of and it definitely has an impact.”

Janet Winston, professor of critical race, gender and sexualities studies, believes HSU has a long road ahead in the effort to provide an entirely safe and comfortable campus for all of its students.

“There are lots of initiatives [on campus], but there’s also a lot of direction based on trying to protect the university as an institution from lawsuits,” Winston said. “The thing that has been most striking to me and most frustrating is the lack of institutional commitment in the form of material resources to a professionally staffed queer resource center – which is something that I and many of my fellow faculty, staff and students have been working on for over 10 years.”

Winston was the first faculty advisor for the Eric Rofes Multicultural Queer Resource Center before it was defunded by administration “on the grounds that there’s some kind of legal risk in the campus paying students in this center,” Winston said.

Having taught queer studies since the 90’s, Winston said because the field is constantly evolving, she had to reinvent her curriculum each time she would teach a course.

“The field is changing,” Winston said. “There’s an explosion of amazing literature and I want to still connect students to the past and to foundational theories like Barba Smith’s book “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Turn Me Around,” so that they can see the longevity and the kind of radical things that were being done in the 70’s, but also, I want to stay on top of what’s happening in terms of queer literature and queer theory. It’s challenging but it also is very exciting.”

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Winston discovered a great deal of her identity through reading books like “This Bridge Called my Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color” that challenged her to become conscious of her intersectional identity in ways she hadn’t considered before.

“[Those experiences] formed the foundation for what I bring to all of my classes – that it’s going to be intersectional, that we’re going to look at ourselves and our own social positionality and the privileges that we have and the oppressions that we face because of our identities,” Winston said.

Winston believes society is plagued by compulsory heterosexuality, which reinforces the notion that we ought to be punished for not conforming to the narrative society provides.

“My goal for [my classes] is that people who identify as queer or some version of that see themselves reflected in the literature and also feel challenged by the literature to rethink their own notions of identity,” Winston said. “For students who don’t identify as queer, [my goal is for them] to really expand thinking about the frameworks within which they conceptualize their own gender and sexual identities and unsettle that sense of the normative.”

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